- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
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For three hours and 47 minutes on Thursday afternoon, members of the House Committee on Government Reform asked questions to three current and two former Major League Baseball players. Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Curt Schilling and Sammy Sosa demonstrated varying levels of candor before the committee. Frank Thomas, who made a statement at the hearing by videoconference, did not face questioning.
The former slugger turned author was asked 49 questions. Although he said in his opening statement that his being turned down for immunity would compromise some of his answers, Canseco answered every question. While others on the panel said they didn't see much steroid use, Canseco -- not surprisingly -- said he did. He claimed that baseball turned its back to the steroid problems because it might have helped the sport recover from the work stoppage that cut off the 1994 season.
"From what I'm hearing I was the only individual in Major League Baseball to use steroids," Canseco said. "That's hard to believe." Canseco maintained that baseball's drug program is not a serious attempt to solve the problem and that a reputable program could only be achieved if Congress stepped in. This comment was made despite the fact that he said that he thought that his book might have helped those on steroids to stop.
In his bestseller, he said that steroids could be good when used correctly by athletes, but during his testimony he admitted that he no longer believed that. From the beginning, he said he was also particularly touched by the stories of the families who had lost baseball playing sons because of what they believe to be steroid-induced suicides.
The former slugger was asked 38 questions. He dodged 11 of them. While he never invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, he constantly told the representatives that he was not going to talk about the past or that he wouldn't know because he was retired. Throughout the questioning, he was very serious and unmoved. This was in direct contrast to his opening statement.
In his seven-minute opening monologue, his voice was shaking and cracking, but it was clear from the beginning that he was not going to confirm or deny whether or not he used steroids. "If a player answers 'No,' he simply will not be believed," McGwire said. "If he says 'Yes,' he faces endless scorn." Throughout his testimony, McGwire continued to say that he would be happy to serve as a spokesman on baseball's efforts against performance-enhancing drugs.
A point of tension came when McGwire said that he would tell kids that steroids were bad and that they shouldn't take them. But when one of the representatives asked him how exactly he would know that, McGwire bypassed answering the question.
Toward the end of the hearing, McGwire's rote answers were causing tension in the room. One of his answers was mocked by a congresswoman who was hoping to have her question answered. Another predictable McGwire response to a question posed by Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay prompted Clay to tell McGwire that he had hoped he would get an answer. McGwire promised to redirect funds from his foundation, which benefits neglected and abused children, toward combating the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
During his testimony, Palmeiro said that he had never taken steroids and that he would tell children that his career was a model one that he was proud of. Like Schilling, he said that he never saw steroids being used in the clubhouse and that he was willing to advocate a policy to ensure that all players were on an equal playing field.
Schilling, whose name has not been tied to steroid use, was asked the most questions (52). During his testimony, Schilling admitted that he overstated the steroid problem in the past as a result of it being "a very hot situation." In reality, he said, he actually had never seen a syringe being used by a teammate in his entire playing career.
He was the only one on the panel who specifically went after Canseco, saying that Canseco was a liar for what he wrote about in the book. Said Schilling: "The allegations made in that book, the attempts to smear the names of players both past and present, having been made by one who for years vehemently denied steroid use, should be seen for what they are: an attempt to make money at the expense of others."
When pressed as to whether he believed the league was doing all it can to ensure a drug-free future, Schilling said he was confident in the league and the union leadership and that he believed if loopholes were found in the policy, they would be closed.
The man who took part in the home run race of 1998 with Mark McGwire said the least of any of those on the panel -- perhaps because he doesn't speak English as well as the others. His opening statement was read by his lawyer and most of his answers consisted of agreeing with what was already said by those that preceded him. Sosa said that he had never taken steroids.
Darren Rovell is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
1hJacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information
17hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com